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Of all the reforms the Bologna Process has brought about the most interesting (and challenging for us here in the U.S.) is the advent of the 3-year baccalaureate. Bologna University with over 100,000 students and tuition-free education, was (and still is) the refuge of the decadently youthful. Providing that they were enrolled in at least one class, the twenty-somethings could call themselves students, way into the thirty-nowheres. The Bologna Process has shifted this academic vehicle in reverse and it is the expectation that students will be in and out of the sprawling campus in 36 month. Mamma mia!

England had started the movement toward the compact baccalaureate over a decade before Bologna with great results. It emerged as a Bologna Process goal in 1999 and was defined as the three-cycle process.

The first cycle of three full-time equivalent academic years (no summers off), typically carries between 180 to 240 ECTS credit points (90 to 120 Carnegie units). This cycle is generally referred to, as the Bachelor cycle, and part of it are two short programs called the Foundation Degree (equal to a “certificate” in the U.S.), and Intermediate programs (equal to an AA).

Thus a student obtains an occupational certificate (for example, dental assistant’s) on their way to a BA and assuming they drop out after the first year (as 40% of Traditional University (TUs) students or 60% in Capitalized Universities (CUs) do in the U.S.) they would have a way to make a living. By the time they finish the Intermediate (AA equivalent) they can stop-out or simply graduate and go to work in jobs such as IT technician, bank-teller or nurse. But if they continue one more year they get a BA, and this is considered entry-level for careers in business, education or government.

This (education tied to employment opportunities along the way to the BA) solves a pervasive problem in American education and that is the student in a 4-year degree, who stops or drops out after two years, more deeply in debt than when they first began and with no occupational credential or degree. This the opposite of a “personal good”, I would call it a “personal harm,” which universities (knowing the facts), are perpetrating on the students without alerting them to the potential folly.

In the U.S. the 2-year drop-outs are able to qualify only for jobs often advertised as “management trainee” (and that involve working as a commissioned salesperson of magazines or vinyl siding), and requires only “some college.” Every other legitimately salaried offer of employment would require a degree, a license or specific occupational training, which our 2-year dropout in the U.S. would not have. But in those 47 countries that are signatories to the Bologna Process they would.

The three-cycle Bologna process makes available to the students a “personal good” in return for their time and money, even before they finish their 3-yer baccalaureate. This design has a significant societal and economic impact. For one, it reduces by fifty percent, the time that it takes to turn a high-schooler into a productive citizen.

Under the Bologna process there’s a second cycle typically carrying 90-120 ECTS (45 to 60 Carnegie units), with a minimum of 60 credits (30 units). This is equivalent to our Master Degree. There’s a third cycle, equivalent to our doctoral level, which do not specify a number of credits or earned as credits, but is based on research and the production of a dissertation.

The Bologna Process adopted the three-cycle degree structure in order to standardize academic degrees making it easier to achieve portability between countries. Originally called the Erasmus Program (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students), it started as a European Union (EU) student exchange program and it is now part of the operational framework for the European Commission’s initiatives in higher education.

Some campuses have adopted the three-cycle system as their only academic offer (dark brown) and some have adopted it as an additional choice alongside their existing programs (medium brown). Light brown countries have adopted and are in the process of implementing. Last year the Vienna-Prague Communiqué declared that 95% of all universities participating in the Bologna Process had incorporated it into their policies in one way or another. Eventually it is expected that the three-cycle structure would replace the current mishmash of options in European universities.

This standardization will make European Higher Education a much more productive element of their economic structure than it had been in the past and will leave us in the proverbial dust.